By Dawson Day
Fall is here and with it comes cooler air and water temperatures. A great variety of species can be found inshore and offshore of Siesta Key, but make sure you have some cool-weather gear to keep you warm.
With the drop in water temperatures, we will start to see large schools of baitfish — including threadfin, pilchards, and sardines — off of our local beaches, bringing large schools of actively feeding king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, and sharks.
We tend to see these large schools of fish anywhere from a few hundred yards off the beaches to 15 miles or so offshore. When fishing for these species, it is best to have a live well filled with plenty of live bait. Make sure to also have plenty of small-gauge single-strand-wire kingfish rigs, or long shank “J” hooks, that can be found at any of our great local tackle shops.
The best tactics for finding the mackerel is by slow trolling free-lined live baits around the large schools of bait that you will see working the surface of the water above hard bottom, wrecks, and reefs.
These mackerel make for great filets to throw on the smoker to make some delicious fresh fish dip.
Cobia will start to flourish on our nearshore wrecks and reefs as well. Cobia can be a very curious fish as they will oftentimes swim up to your boat just to see what you are. Be sure to always have an extra rod or two rigged up with 40- to 60-pound fluorocarbon leader and 7/0 Mustad UltraPoint circle hook ready to cast a bait at them, as they will only give you a short time to present to them before they vanish.
I prefer to cast a live pin fish at them, but if they are hungry they usually will eat a variety of soft and hard plastic baits.
Remember that cobia have a minimum size limit of 33 inches to the fork of the tail, so it is best to have a large net handy for a fish that may be right on the edge of keeper size.
Moving inshore, we are seeing a hot bite of trout, Spanish mackerel, blue fish, and lady fish on the deeper grass flats of Sarasota Bay. When looking for these fish on the grass flats, a great starting point is where you see birds actively feeding on the surface, which means predator fish nearby. It is recommended to have a bait well full of live pilchards ready to chum the waters to get the fish feeding and hanging close to the boat. You can also drift the flats with small MirrOdine hard plastic lures and DOA CALs to cover more water and find the fish.
The season on trout remains closed, so it is best to snap a quick picture of your fish and return them back to the water as quick as you can to ensure the fish swims away healthy.